“I want to be the CEO of ALSAC,” declares 14-year-old Madison Dismuke. Despite her tender age, there’s a certainty in her manner. Long lashes accent hazel eyes, and her gaze reflects an active mind.
ALSAC CEO Richard C. Shadyac Jr. would tell you she’s likely to win his post someday. Madison has been a proven rainmaker for ALSAC, the fundraising organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. To date, she and other members of the team named for her brother Ingram have raised a whopping $750,000. In addition, Madison has twice been recognized as ALSAC’s top individual fundraiser.
Not bad for a kid still doing math homework.
A family crisis pushed Madison to grow up fast. In 2012, then 3-year-old Ingram was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood brain cancer, anaplastic ependymoma. Thoughtful and sensitive, Madison struggled to cope.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she remembers. “I didn’t know how, but knew I was going to help.”
Opening a lemonade stand to raise money, Madison soon reached out to the business community, requesting donations for St. Jude, where her brother was being treated. She often cried while speaking about the family’s struggle, but happier days followed.
“The days his scans come back clear were some of the best days,” she says.
Now, with 7-year-old Ingram cancer-free, Madison chooses to continue her efforts, getting help from her 12-year-old sister, Lindsey, and other members of Team Ingram. Together, they have raised money for the St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center, the world’s only proton center dedicated solely to the treatment of children.
Long before cancer touched their lives, her dad, Craig, had nicknamed Madison “The Compassionate.”
“I was born with a love for helping people,” she says. “But then I discovered more about how to do that through St. Jude.” When she was 9, Madison announced she would raise $1 million for St. Jude. Today, she grows closer to that goal than anyone would have imagined.
Craig helps his daughter polish her presentations; he works as an economist and experienced speaker at Vining Sparks. Madison blends facts and emotion to share her brother’s story. “Now public speaking is an adrenaline rush for me. I like telling stories that interest people,” she says.
The partnership with her father is one example of the powerful bonds that have been forged in her family. “We got through the scary cancer together,” says Craig. Her mom Ashley “was the glue that held us together.”
Through it all, Madison has learned to persevere. When a Fortune 500 company turned her down for donations, she refused to give up. “That was kind of a failure, but we still raised lots of money,” she says. Real-world experience trickles down to shape school activities, too. Madison has served as president of the National Junior Honor Society at Houston Middle School.
Invited to speak at the school’s eighth-grade promotion ceremony, she considered her themes carefully. What message would help her classmates as they started high school? Don’t be afraid to fail, she decided. And follow your dreams, noting that Steve Jobs faced numerous setbacks before finding success. Then, toward the end of her speech, she chose words more fitting of her youthful audience, sending graduates off with the lyrics from a Justin Timberlake song:
“Cause I got that sunshine in my pocket, got that good soul in my feet. So just dance, dance, dance.”